The Italian Jewish Archives: Communities, Institutions, Private Archives

Micaela Procaccia, Italian State Archives


Despite the losses suffered over the course of two thousand years, the archival wealth of the Italian Jewish communities – for its antiquity, continuity and richness of text, is among the most well-preserved. Alongside that which has been preserved by Jewish institutions, the Italian State Archives contain rich and valuable documentation produced in large part by Jewish groups interacting with regional authorities. These holdings often cover chronological gaps in the community records, allowing for a more complete history of thousands of years of coexistence. While not exhaustive, the State Archives expand the margins of research considerably.


In Italy when referring to the “Jewish archives”, one intends the records conserved in a variety of situations ranging from the most institutional (i.e., the Jewish Community and the Union of Jewish Communities) to private charitable and cultural associations to the records of births abroad, which constitute one of the most vital components of Italian Judaism [1].


A survey of the conditions of the archives related to Jewish communities in Italy was conducted in December 2003 by a work group composed of researchers from the Directorate-General for Archives and the Foundation for Italian Jewish Cultural Heritage. The results of this survey show evidence of a notable disparity between archives where there was work in progress and archives that had been more or less disaggregated. This extent of this disparity was surprising and it formed the basis for a national plan of ‘conservation intervention’ which reaching its conclusion.


The results of this impressive work, focused on the central and northern regions (Piedmont, Lombardy, Veneto, Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, Emilia Romagna, Tuscany, Marche, and Lazio) and also the Campania region in the south, together with the archives of the Community of Naples, will be available on SIUSA (Sistema Informativo Unificato delle Soprintendenze Archivistiche). A description of the work in progress is already available on-line, along with the archive of the Community of Trieste. The archives of the communities of Piedmont and Emilia Romagna will also be made available on-line, next year.


Each of the twenty one Jewish Communities in existence in Italy [2] has produced and conserved an archive [3], but the documentation in these archives varies significantly in consistency and breadth of chronology due to events that affected the Jews in that area. For example, the historical archives of the Jewish Community in Turin were destroyed by fire after a bombing in 1942. Today there are only around 44 linear meters of registration records, accounting, property, and educational records dating from the 1940’s. However, in addition to the archives of the community, the Fondazione Archivio Terracini has conserved many smaller archives and single documents from various Piedmontese communities that are now extinct or endangered [4], including family letters and an important collection of Ketubbòth (wedding contracts). Recently examined and sorted as a part of the national initiative, they constitute a collection of documents that is essential for the history of the Jews in the area as well as the general history of the region. Another important archive in the Piedmont is that of the Community of Casale Monferrato which has around a thousand registers, folders and paper files, with documents from the 18th century through the mid 20th century. Particularly noteworthy are the holdings of letters from 1830 to 1945 and mandates from 1804 to 1945 which are continuous and uninterrupted.


Of particular interest is the situation in Venice, where the Jewish archives are conserved in the Renato Maestro Library Archive, containing documents dating back to 1589 (including writings related to the “Università degli ebrei levantini viandanti” “The Community of Itinerant Levantine Jews”). The main sets are those relating to the diverse ‘Scuole’ in which the community was structured whose documentation goes through 1937-38, the confraternities and the Fraterna Israelitica (1834-1937). Of particular importance are the documents of the Board of Directors and the Presidency that comprise the regulatory documents of the Community through 1949, as well as the sets that cover the Civil and State Registry, the Catechumens and abjurations, Discriminations, Persecutions, deportations. This archive has been reorganized and there is a printed inventory [5]. Documentation from 1815 through the current era, stored in the archival warehouse, was recently re-organized and newly ordered.


In Florence the archive of the local Community is currently undergoing a reorganization and conservation of documents dating back to the 17th century, with a special focus on the Napoleonic period. These archives consist of circa seventy registries and 700 serial sets of documents mostly regarding the confraternities and welfare agencies. Of note are the archives of the fund Nazione Israelitica (regg. e bb. 72, 1620-1808), located in the State Archives of Florence under “Archivi diversi”, which contain various proceedings and records of the Jewish Community of Florence (i.e., decrees and sentences, representational appointments in economic and political affairs, dowry papers, and petitions). The majority of these are relative to the magistrate in charge of Jewish administrators or bailiffs whose special jurisdiction was abolished in 1808. [6]


The Community of Florence also conserves the archives of the Community of Siena, from 1930 a section of the Florentine community. The Siena archives (1701-1963) include 190 archival units, subdivided into 134 registers and 56 binders containing files and loose pages. [7]


The Archivio storico della Communità ebraica di Roma [Historical Archive of the Jewish community in Rome] (ASCER) is also in the advanced stage of reorganization. It is probably the most complete community archive conserved, including serial sets of documents dating back to the 17th century, and well as older documentation.


In particular, we highlight the documentation of what is today called the Comunità ebraica but whose diverse iterations include Università degli ebrei di Roma, Università Israelitica, and Comunità israeltica. This archive contains, among the oldest holdings and documentation of efforts on the part of Jewish institutions to fight forced conversion orders.[8] Also of note are the holdings pertaining to the ‘Scuole’ and the numerous ‘Confraternite’. Of notable interest are the series of archives of the Jewish Community pertaining to the period 1938-1944, which contain important resources on the history and application of the racial laws in Rome. The archives, which were until the 1960’s the target of multiple interventions that have altered their structure in part, are currently undergoing another inventorying according to international standards. The historical archives of the Community of Rome constitute one of the most significant resources for the history of Italian Judaism and the city of Rome, particularly if the information contained in the documentation is cross-referenced with the ample documentation conserved in a series of Archives of the State of Rome (particularly in the Protocolli notarili [Notary Protocols] and the fondi Camerali e giudiziari [holdings of the House and the judiciary]). In Rome we note the presence of records such as the “Notai Ebrei” [Jewish Notaries] which are held at the Archivio storico capitolino [Capitoline Archives], which together with the protocols of the “Notai dei Neofiti” [Notaries of the Neophytes] and those of the “Notai dei banchieri ebrei” [Notaries of Jewish Bankers], constitute one of the three nuclei of the Section III “Archivi Urbani” [Urban Archives]. Each of these three groups is well distinguished by specific archival and diplomatic descriptions. The most¬ obvious among the many interesting features of the “Notai Ebrei” [Jewish Notaries] is that the acts were written exclusively in Hebrew, from the first document of the series dated January 1536 through 1590, and then in a mix of Hebrew and Italian until the last appearance dated in 1640.[9]


The archives of the Jewish Community of Modena (1643-1943) and the small archives of the Community of Carpi (1719-1872) that is conserved with them.[10] are completely reorganized and inventoried.


Examining the results of the reorganization and of the inventory, we find that the serial sets are consistent throughout the Communities. Before the Emancipation, in ancient times, the files were generally aggregated by Schools, accounting and budget, dealings with authorities (memoirs, petitions), correspondence between the communities (of the Fattori and of the Rabbi) while the forced baptisms tend to be grouped separately. Documents pertaining to the Confraternite are also present consistently, and they are more or less the same everywhere with the same trade names.


After the Emancipation we find that in almost every series there are references to: accounting, worship, confraternities, public assistance and charity, institutions, correspondence between the secular authorities and the Rabbis, and official minutes from meetings of self-governing bodies.


After the law of 1930: Minutes of the Council, Accounting and Budget, Personnel Management, Confraternite, Worship, Rabbi’s Office, Agencies, Charities, relations with the UCII or l’Unione delle Communità israelitiche italiane [Union of Italian Jewish Communities]. Of note in these documents are those that pertain to the institution of Jewish schools after the expulsion from the Italian public school system 1938 .[11]


The UCII archive, which also includes the archives of the Consorzio delle Communità israelitiche [Consortium of Jewish Communities] (1909-1931), is fundamental for the reconstruction of contemporary Italian Jewish history. It is organized in diverse serial sets that refer to the different areas of competence.[12] Of particular relevance is the documentation concerning the DELASEM Delegazione assistenza emigrati ebrei [Delegation of Assistance for Jewish Emigrants], which was responsible for a great deal of clandestine activity during the Second World War. The UCII archives also contain the papers of the CRDE [Comitato ricerche deportati ebrei or Committee on Research of Deported Jews]. These last holdings include important testimony from concentration camp survivors and letters written by those who escaped at the time of the liberation. They have been reorganized through 1950.


The UCII papers are conserved in the UCEI or the Centro bibliografico dell’Unione delle Comunità ebraiche italiane [Central Library of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities][13] in Rome, one of the largest institutions for the conservation of documents established in recent times.


Founded in the 1980s, UCEI’s original purpose was to collect and conserve Jewish archives and libraries at risk of being dispersed. It was also to be a center for research on Italian Judaism. Conserved alongside the archive of the UCII are those of the Jewish Community of Pitigliano (circa 300 files, SECC.XVII-XX, inventoried) and the Community of Senigallia (inventoried). Moreover it conserves important holdings from the C.R.D.E. archives; for the most part these papers and parchments have been newly inventoried. (A part of the C.R.D.E. archives are also held by the CDEC in Milan). Among the UCEI holdings we find the papers of some important Jewish figures of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (Samuele David Luzzatto and Isacco Artom, Augusto Segre, Sam Waagenar, and Tullia Zevi), the archives of the Artom family, a vast photographic archive documenting sites that are now (for the most part) lost, and a collection of ritual song recordings by the ethno-musicologist Leo Levi[14]. The UCEI also houses an important library for specialists.[15]


The C.D.E.C. Centro di documentazione ebraica contemporanea [Center for Contemporary Jewish Documentation] in Milan was founded in 1955 with the purpose of securing a complete inventory of the documentation pertaining to the Fascist period, anti-Semitism and persecution, as well as Italian Jewish contributions to the Resistance. Successively it has amplified its objective to document the history of Italian Jews throughout the arc of the modern era. Along with a rich library, the institute conserves holdings of diverse origins: individual and personal archives, Jewish organizations, collections related to historical events, and serial sets pertaining to subsequent donations or acquisitions of papers and single documents. Also of great interest are the C.D.E.C’s audiovisual holdings – comprising one of the most complete collections of documentaries, audiovisual materials, and films on the persecution and extermination of Jews in Europe during the World War II. This collection includes over 100 interviews with Auschwitz survivors, the “Archivio della memoria”, which was the basis for the film “Memoria” (produced by the C.D.E.C.). There are catalogs for some of the holdings while others only have a table of contents. The holdings of the “Vicissitudini dei singoli” [Life Stories] – a collection of documents on the persecution of diverse individuals and families – was recently inventoried. Other organizational efforts are currently underway.


One particularly interesting resource for the history of the persecution of Jews in Italy was recently put online by the Archivio Centrale dello stato [Central Archives of the Sate] and by the Direzione generale per gli archivi [Directorate-General for Archives]. It consists of around 400 interviews in Italian, conducted in 1998 by the University of Southern California Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education (Los Angeles). These interviews with Shoah survivors and witnesses have been meticulously digitized and indexed by Italian archivists with software created by the SFI. A copy was given to the Archivio Centrale dello Stato. Thanks to an agreement between the Directorate-General for Archives, SFI and the Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa, an online portal has been created through which it is possible (registration required) to search the interviews via a detailed thesaurus of keywords. Keywords have been associated with minute segments in the video so that the interviews can be seen in part or in their entirety – depending on the interests of the researcher: (


The possibilities for research within the holdings of the Jewish archives are infinite. The close knit ties between the history of the Jews in Italy and Italian history generally (Italy is a special case in this sense) make these documents useful to researchers of diverse interests and disciplines. To cite merely a few of the possibilities: the history of banking and loans, the history of migration in Italy, Church politics during the Counter Reformation, secularization in the Napoleon period, the Unification of Italy (Risorgimento), the history of minority political rights, the economic history of cities in the modern era. Naturally the application of the racial laws in Italy, but perhaps less obvious, also the process which led to the drafting of the constitution: the UCII archives contain the minutes and a copy of the booklet Rilievi e proposte [Proposals and Surveys] which has to do with a proposed draft of the constitution, drawn up and approved by the Consiglio dell’Unione delle Communità Israelitiche [Council of the Union of the Jewish Communities] presided over by Raffaele Cantoni during the meetings of March 24th and 25th, 1947, and sent to the Constituent Assembly. At the Centro bibliografico (UCEI) there is an extremely important archive for the history of the Unification of Italy (Risorgimento) – the papers of Isacco Artom, then secretary to Cavour and later Secretary General of Foreign Affairs for the unified Italy. Areas that remain to be explored include individual Jewish ‘settlements’, in particular during the era of “ghettos” – recent surveys indicate that these were more dynamic and varied than was previously thought. Likewise, a stimulating and fruitful study (already underway in some areas, relative to the medieval period) is the relationship between the Jewish quarter and the city at large. For example, such a study is already being conducted with regard to the city of Rome.


Many of the archives of the Jewish Community have been declared of historical importance, according to the Codice dei beni culturali e del paesaggio [Code of Cultural and National Heritage].[16] Thus, they are available for consultation upon request, by appointment- by calling the Community or the Archival Superintendent of the region.[17] In some cases they have regular business hours, ranging from two days per week (in Rome) to five days per week (UCEI and the CDEC). All the archives are closed during Jewish holidays. It is, in any case, advisable to call ahead to confirm a visit.



[1] For a more detailed description see M. Procaccia, "Gli archivi delle istituzioni ebraiche" (cit.) and M. Procaccia, "Il caso degli archivi delle communita ebraiche", in I beni ebraici in Italia, ed. Mauro Perani (Ravenna: Longo, 2002) 22-30.

[2] Ancona, Bologna, Casale Monferrato, Ferrara, Firenze, Genova, Livorno, Mantova, Merano, Milano, Modena, Napoli, Padova, Parma; Pisa, Roma, Torino, Trieste, Venezia, Vercelli, Verona. For more information go to the site:


[3] The Archives of the Community of Reggio Emilia (no longer in existence) are conserved at the Archivi dello stato [State Archives] of the city.


[4] The Community of Saluzza (approx. 80 files, secc. XVIII-XX9, of Mondovi) (approx. 20 pieces, sec.XIX9, of Carmagnola) (approx. 5 units, sec.XIX), of Cuneo (93 files, secc.XIX-XX).


[5] Inventario dell’Archivio della communità ebraica di Venezia, ed. E. Tonetti (Venice: 1984), with the collaboration of the Regione Veneto and the Sopraintendenza Archivistica.


[6] Guida generale per gli archivi di stato, ed. C. Pavone and P. D’Angiolini (Rome: Ministro per la cultura e l’ambiente, Ufficio centrale per i beni archivistici, 1983) II: 170.


[7] Thanks to the archivist Anna Di Castro for this information, contained in the census.


[8] For these events, in relation to Rome, examine M. Caffiero,  Battesimi forzati. Storie di ebrei, cristiani e convertiti nella Roma dei Papi (Rome: Viella, 2004).


[9] For more information regarding the protocols, refer to K. Stow (1995-1996), The Jews in Rome, Vol. 2, Leiden, S. DiNepi, “I registri notarili ebraici come fonte storica”, Materia giudaica, IX/1: 53-64 (2004).


[10] The Archive of Modena comprises 110 registries, 52 files, 15 volumes, 203 decks, 52 official documents concerning the documentation until 1852.  140 registries, 93 files, 142 decks, 23 folders, 10 pamphlets, 1 rubric, 8 boxes, 5 official documents concerning the documentation from 1860 until 1943; that of Carpi contains 42 files.


[11] B. Migliau, M. Procaccia, “La documentazione della scuola media ebraica a Roma nel 1938”, Italia Judaica (1993). “Gli ebrei nell’Italia unita (1870-1945)” Atti del IV convegno internazionale, Siena, 12-16 giugno 1989, Roma, Ministero per i beni culturali e ambientali, Ufficio centrale per i beni archivistici : 453-463.


[12] Activities of the Consortium (bb.26, with certain Statues of the Community from 1881); archive of the Union (bb.47, 1923-1933 and bb.166, 1934-1962), Minutes of the Board and Council (bb.5 1933-1976); a collection of clippings and newspapers (1920-1943), for a total of bb.569.


[13] This is the name assumed by the UCII after the Intesa.


[14] Copies of the collection of Leo Levi are conserved in Rome and also at the Academia Santa Cecilia and the Audio Library of the State.


[15] For a description go to the site:


[16] These are the archives of the Jewish Communities of Rome, Florence, Livorno, Trieste, Turin, Parma, Modena, those stored at the UCEI, as well as the archival collections held at the CDEC in Milan. In this regard M. Procaccia “ I beni archivistici” (1997), in La tutela dei beni culturali ebraici in Italia; atti del convegno, Bologna 9 marzo 1994,IBC, Bologna: 32-35. M. Procaccia “Il caso degli archivi delle comunità ebraiche” (2002), cited above. For further analysis of the legislation concerning the preservation of Jewish archives, see M. Procaccia “Gli archivi delle Istituzioni ebraiche”, cited above.


[17] The Archival Superintendents have regional expertise. For a listing of the Superintendents and their contact information, see:


Translation by Inga Pierson and Kathleen Giles